Taking place across multiple venues over two weeks each July, the annual Buxton International Festival is when the town truly comes alive. It’s recognised as one of the UK’s leading cultural events and even been included in The Times’ top 50 must-see events around the globe. The emphasis is on opera, music and literature, presenting audiences with a richly-packed programme featuring some of the most prominent international singers, artists and literary figures around, as well as plenty of new and undiscovered talent. The organisers pride themselves on capturing the zeitgeist of the time, carving a space for rarely performed operas, and nurturing young talent.
A satellite series of literary salons, talks by leading thinkers, guided walks, cooking demonstrations and other activities runs alongside, accompanied by the Buxton Fringe Festival, which brings an added flair to the fortnight with an alternative strand of theatre, comedy, music, dance, film, spoken word, street theatre and visual art.
This year’s opera series features Errollyn Wallen’s new opera, Dido’s Ghost, which incorporates Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It also features Malcolm Arnold’s The Dancing Master, a co-production with conductor John Andrews (nominated for BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Opera recording of the year), Jonathan Dove’s The Enchanted Pig, plus a brand new BIF production of Pauline Viardot’s Opéra comique Cendrillon.
The 2021 festival’s music series, meanwhile, includes concerts by Dame Sarah Connolly, Sir John Tomlinson, The English Concert, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and Natalie Clein. And as for the book series, guests include bestselling authors James Rebanks, Ben MacIntyre and Max Hastings, broadcasters Andrew Marr, Iain Dale, Giles Fraser and Matthew Parris, and historians Margaret MacMillan and Neil Oliver.
The festival is a great way to discover Buxton. Most of the flagship BIF concerts are held in the iconic Opera House (designed by Frank Matcham, one of Edwardian Britain’s finest theatre architects), at St John’s Church, or in the Pavilion Arts Centre. The Fringe, meanwhile, makes use of some of the town’s more unusual spaces, such as the incredible Scrivener’s Bookshop, much-loved Buxton Brewery Tap House, and epic show cave Poole’s Cavern, which hosted a performance of Romeo and Juliet back in 2005.
BIF was established in 1979 by Malcom Fraser (then Head of Opera at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music), and the highly-respected Welsh conductor Anthony Hose, as part of a successful effort to secure the restoration of the Opera House. The building remains central to the festival’s identity while its sunny forecourt serves as something of a social gathering place in-between shows.
This is one of Buxton’s most celebrated calendar events, popular among locals and international crowds alike.